Manchester United’s defeat, sorry draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday was tagged as a shining example of the drama of the Premiership by some in the media. For many United fans however it merely underlined certain frailties that haven’t been addressed since the Fulham game and left a bad taste in the mouth. While following that disappointing result at Craven Cottage- from a United point of view, there were still some positives to be taken, it’s a little harder to keep your chin up when your side gives away a two-goal lead in stoppage time. It was so painful that I couldn’t put myself through it again on MOTD , me and a mate actually debating whether to watch a sky + recording of X-factor his missus had taped when we got home from the pub. Eventually though it was time for some honest reflection and while it still makes me feel slightly sick, it’s not time to buy a City shirt and sell my soul to the devil just yet. There are several lessons to be learned from Saturdays game and none of them involve Wayne Rooney- that’ll be the last time he gets mentioned in this article I assure you. Evra’s human and men approaching middle age get tired are among two of the things we learned from Saturdays game at Goodison.
1. Kill or be killed. While three goals is usually enough to see United beat even the strongest of attacking sides, there can be no denying that there was ample chance to put the game well and truly to bed before the final two minutes. Both Dimitar Berbatov and Nani- it’s him again- could have, well should have, done better with chances they had when the game was at 3-1. What’s particularly frustrating about it was that both players are capable of doing much better than they did with their final opportunities and it was a case of being far too lackadaisical and treating the game as though it was won. There’s no real excuse for not making sure. Berbatov has been on fine form of late and its seems harsh to apportion any of the blame for United’s failure to win at his door. It still grates though that what should have been a simple goal for Ryan Giggs or Nani had the Bulgarian squared the ball, ended with a rather timid shot that went wide. Nani’s decision making also again was called into question, as he also wasted a good chance at the end when he had better options.
2. Patrice Evra is human. It’s been a long, long time -in a galaxy far far away- that I can recall saying the words ‘Evra had a ‘mare’ but unfortunately on Saturday he did. Not since his debut against City can I remember my favourite United player looking so out of sorts. It was a strange sight to witness and not one I want to see again, but United’s left back gave the sort of performance that you’d associate with John O’Shea on a very bad day. It was totally out of character and hopefully not something we’ll see again soon. Why was Evra so bad? Well he’s had his fair share of bad press since the World Cup plus his appeal against his five match French ban was recently turned down so that may have affected him. Perhaps Fergie should have rested him for an extra week following the World Cup and he is actually suffering from a bit of fatigue. Either way United need all their top players performing to the best of their ability with some more tough games coming up. On Saturday Evra showed that he’s not infallible, let’s just hope it was a minor blip rather than any real problem the Frenchman is suffering from.
3. Rio’s return can‘t come quick enough. The name on almost every United fans lips at full time, was not Wayne..sorry I almost forgot, was not any missing striker, it was that of Mr Ferdinand, who’s return now seems to be more vital than ever. The freedom with which Cahill managed to score Everton’s second was slightly worrying, the fact that Mikel Arteta had enough time to make a brew before he banged in the equaliser was shocking. A few people pointed the finger at Jonny Evans for either -or both- goals and while I think it was a team -lack of- effort that contributed to them rather than one individual there’s no doubt that Rio’s return would help sort the defence out no end. The question is will Ferdinand be-in true Take That style- back for good? After all a man who last season was behind Ledley King in Premier League appearances can hardly be counted on to play the majority of games. In the past I’ve actually advocated giving Evans a chance even if Rio’s fit just because the Irish defender stays fit and would benefit from a stable run in the side. However, even I have to admit that it would be foolish not to put a fit Ferdinand back in the side. His organisational skills or ‘silks’ as he calls them on twitter, were sorely missed at Goodison. While were on the subject of changing the defence, is it not time to forget about playing Gary Neville in difficult games? That may sound harsh but I for the life of me can’t work out why Wes Brown has become a reserve team regular recently and also why he no longer seems a viable option at right back? People will say Rafael is too inexperienced but how is he going to gain big game experience if he doesn’t play in the big games. Like Evans It wasn’t Neville’s fault for the goals but is he really the best man for the job at right back? I think not.
4. United have a squad but they need to use it. Having three outfield players over 34 playing a full 90 minutes was a bit of a strange decision by Sir Alex Ferguson to say the least. Both Neville and Scholes looked a bit dead on their feet towards the end of the match, and had either or both been replaced then things may have been different. Neville gave the ball away for their third while Scholes failed to pick up Arteta, yet can we be surprised? Neville’s hardly had any match practice while Scholes has been ever-present this season. I can understand why Fergie took off Evra for Park, but I don’t see what harm it would have done to introduce Rafael or Darron Gibson- or both -for Scholes and Neville. Then there was Nani who seemed to disappear towards the end, leaving poor old Gary Neville totally exposed down the right hand side. Why Fergie was reluctant to change it, when there were obviously tired legs out there baffles me slightly.
5. Teams aren’t giving up anymore. In the past even away from home it’s not been unusual for certain teams to simply accept that they’ve lost the game when United are leading with only a couple of minutes left. I’m not claiming that teams cannot be bothered, just that some opposing players allow their heads to drop slightly in the closing minutes as they succumb to the idea that the game is now lost. However, this is no longer the case. As Fulham showed two weeks ago and now Everton have proven, teams are not going to roll over and die against United anymore. If United are to wrestle the title from Chelsea’s grasp- and for the record I’m not buying into the idea that it’s practically impossible after only four games and no defeats- then they’re going to have to prepare for battle. A result against United is still the premier scalp for many players, and the air of invincibility that Fergie’s men had a couple of seasons ago has long gone. Teams are willing to fight to the death- not literally , unless its Wolves if the press is to be believed- so it’s time for United to roll up their sleeves and get ready for 94-minute slogs. Last season many a United fan -myself included-laughed at the ‘noisy neighbours’ penchant for conceding late goals- well if their not careful that particular affliction could become one associated with the Red half of Manchester.